Overview of Education System
Since January 2004, a new act has regulated the state administration and regional self-government of primary and secondary school education in the Slovak Republic.1 This act decentralized the national education system into eight autonomous, self-governing regions (samosprávny kraj). Primary schools, preschools, and school facilities are administered by municipalities, while secondary schools are administered by self-governing regions.
At the national level, the Ministry of Education, Science, Research, and Sport oversees the administration of the public school system. The Ministry also is responsible for developing educational concepts and a unified educational policy, as well as for creating laws, general binding regulations, and documents related to education (e.g., curriculum documents).
In 2008, the National Council of the Slovak Republic approved Act No. 245/2008 (the Education Act) addressing upbringing and education and defining the two-level system of education.2 The act mandates that education in schools be conducted according to the State Education Program (Štátny Vzdelávací Program, or ŠVP) and the School Education Program (Školský vzdelávací program, or ŠkVP). The State Education Program defines the compulsory content of education in schools and delineates the general objectives and key competencies for education in Slovakia. It provides a framework for teaching plans and corresponding teaching standards at all school levels. The School Education Program is a curricular document adapted for individual schools that describes how schools may attain the general objectives and content standards required by the State Educational Program, considering specific regional and school conditions.
This reform was introduced in the 2008–2009 school year and applied in the first and fifth grades of primary school and the first grade of secondary school (ISCED 1, ISCED 2, and ISCED 3, respectively). In the 2009–2010 to 2012–2013 school years, it was applied in subsequent grades. All students in Slovakia were educated according to this curriculum in the 2012–2013 school year. In 2015, for the first time all students participating in TIMSS were educated in line with the new curricular program.
The ŠVP for Grades 1 to 4 and Grades 5 to 9 does not specify grade levels for particular topics. Rather, the ŠVP determines the topics for periods that cover Grades 1 to 4 and Grades 5 to 9 of primary school, respectively. Schools are free to take their own approach to planning in this regard. The grade specifications for particular topics are defined in school education programs created by teachers and principals at the school level.
Principals manage primary and secondary schools and are responsible primarily for curricular implementation, the integration of professional and pedagogical standards into the teaching process, the evaluation and ongoing education of the teaching staff, budget management and effective use of school financial resources, and the first level of state administration for individual students (e.g., admission, exclusion, delay of enrollment, permission to follow an individual study plan). The principal collaborates with a school board, which functions as a public monitor and comprises pedagogical and nonpedagogical school employees, parents, students (at secondary schools), and representatives of the municipality or self-governing region.3
There are four main levels in the education system in Slovakia: preprimary, primary, secondary, and higher education.
Preprimary education (ISCED Level 0) is provided by kindergartens (materská škola), and special kindergartens for children with special education needs, designed for children from ages 3 to 5. Preschools are founded mostly as independent institutions but can be associated with primary schools. Preschool education is not compulsory, but it is considered part of the education system and is organized according to official documents approved by the Ministry. Generally, it is provided on a fee-paying basis. In accordance with the 2008 Education Act, the final year of preprimary education should be provided free of charge.
Compulsory education in the Slovak Republic lasts 10 years (ages 6 to 16) and consists of three stages. The first two stages comprise primary school (základná škola) in Grades 1 to 4 (ISCED Level 1) and Grades 5 to 9 (ISCED Level 2). The final year of compulsory education typically coincides with the first year of secondary school. Children from socially disadvantaged backgrounds who have not reached the development level necessary for primary school by age 6 have the option to attend an additional Grade 0. Students with special education needs may attend special primary schools.
After completing the fifth grade, students with special talent in academic subjects or the arts may apply for enrollment in eight year grammar or conservatory schools, both requiring entrance examinations. In the ninth grade, students take the national examination Testing 9 (Testovanie 9), in mathematics and their language of instruction (in addition to Slovak, if the student has studied in a minority language). Students may then apply to a secondary school, which may require them to pass an additional entrance examination.
Secondary education (ISCED 2A, 3) is provided by three main types of schools: grammar schools (gymnázium), secondary specialized schools, and conservatories.
Grammar schools (gymnázium) provide general secondary education in four year, five year, and eight year study programs. Bilingual grammar schools offer five year programs. Students may attend eight year grammar schools after completing fifth grade (depending on their entrance examination results). The standard duration of grammar school programs is four years (for primary school leavers). Grammar schools offer academic courses in a variety of subjects and prepare students primarily to study at higher education institutions. Upon completion of general secondary education, students take a school leaving examination (Maturita), and if successful they receive a school leaving certificate that gives them access to higher education.
Secondary specialized schools (stredná odborná škola) prepare students not only for vocational occupations but also for higher education. The duration of programs culminating with school leaving examinations (Maturita) is four or five years. There are three year and four year programs leading to a certificate of apprenticeship, as well as two year and three year training programs leading to qualifications for trade workers and vocational occupations (mainly for low achievers who do not complete the primary education program). Conservatories (konzervatórium) offer six year (music, drama) and eight year (dance) programs. Upon completion of these programs students take a school leaving examination (Maturita), and may continue their studies in higher education or complete an additional two years of conservatory (post-secondary) to obtain an absolutorium diploma.
Depending on the type of secondary education completed, students may continue their studies in post-secondary education (ISCED 4), higher professional education (ISCED 5B), or university education (ISCED 5A). The tertiary level of education is provided only by universities in the Slovak Republic.
Special schools provide education using special education and training methods and accommodations for students with mental, sensory, or physical disabilities, students with dysphasia, and students with multiple disabilities.
Special schools provide education from kindergarten to the secondary level. Special education and training also is provided for students with special needs in regular school classrooms or in special classes within regular schools with the assistance of specialized teachers. Special schools typically accept students on the recommendation of pedagogical, psychological, or specialized advisory centers.4,5,6
Languages of Instruction
Slovak is the official language of the Slovak Republic. Instruction in Slovak is compulsory at all primary and secondary schools. The most prevalent national minority language is Hungarian, followed by Ukrainian and Ruthenian. Instruction may be delivered in minority languages (e.g., Hungarian, Ukrainian, and Ruthenian) and at bilingual primary schools, in English, German, French, or Bulgarian. Approximately 7 percent of all students in Slovakia attend schools providing instruction in Hungarian, the largest minority group. The proportion of students educated in languages other than Slovak or Hungarian is below 0.5 percent. Generally, instruction in minority languages is provided at separate schools, although there are schools with joint administration that provide separate classes in the national language of instruction and minority languages of instruction. At some primary schools, instruction in the language and literature of a national minority is offered as an individual subject.7